Daughter remembers mother’s words

Commentary by Joanne Coley
786th Force Support Squadron

Long before President John F. Kennedy challenged a generation of Americans with the inspiring words, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” Elizabeth, my mother, had been asking and living that challenge for years.

As a military wife, she was always ready to provide support, wisdom and courage to her husband and her children.

My mom, affectionately known as “Bootsie” to her family and friends, lived life to the fullest and on her terms.

Her selflessness and giving was played out through her travels around the world. She was a true ambassador, demonstrating peace and goodwill long before JFK established the Peace Corps.

As I grew up, I would see my mother volunteer her time and talents to various missions, such as the post chapel, the youth center, our neighbors and our schools.
Volunteering for her was more than just a civic duty — to her it was not about recognition or popularity, it was about personal responsibility.

At 17 years old I learned about personal responsibility first hand from Bootsie. I had campaigned vigorously for class president and lost.

I remember coming home and feeling jealous, vowing not to help the winning classmate or support his student council.

My mother, overhearing my declaration, looked at me and asked why I wouldn’t help the newly elected president, knowing that he would need help with the class politics and student activities. I responded that I wasn’t about to lift a finger to help him. My mother subtly replied, “Well, I guess you never really wanted to help your class after all.”

Thinking about her comment made me question my motives on why I wanted to run for class president in the first place. I felt guilty and ashamed. Her words kept haunting me: “Well, I guess you really didn’t want to help your class after all.”
Try as I might, I could not stop thinking about my mother’s words. I thought about all the times she had encouraged me to challenge myself and to be the best at anything that came my way. After some deep soul searching, I gathered up the courage to congratulate our new class president, letting him know that I was available to assist him.

That school year was the beginning of many years that are based on two concepts my mother taught me: one, “winners are not hampered by defeats,” and, most importantly, two, “words are to be backed up with action.”

Even though my mother has passed away, the lessons she taught me still resonate in my heart and flourish in my deeds — that service to others is not just an outward expression, but an opportunity for goodwill.

One of the greatest traits we Americans have is our ability to give. Our service to others should not be for shallow personal gain or popularity, but for the deeper meaning of personal responsibility.

My mother embodied President Kennedy’s inspiring words — “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” — every single day of her life. And that is something we all should aspire to.